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by Martin Malloy on Jan 09, 2009
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
It's no secret that Hollywood is obsessed with the underbelly of American Suburbia. The most recent, and best, example is Little Children which contemplates the boredom, and ultimate infidelities, of what is supposed to be that American Dream. In that film Kate Winslet portrays a housewife whose days are filled watching her daughter at the park or pool. She embodies the ennui of every housewife, or househusband, as we come to learn. Revolutionary Road, on the surface, isn't much different.
Winslet plays April Wheeler, the seemingly happy housewife of Frank Wheeler (Leo Dicaprio) who’s stuck in a dead end job. Despite their obvious unhappiness (at least to the viewer) everyone believes that they are the model family. Actually, their being the "perfect" couple is uttered incessantly and becomes a tiresome point (ok, we get it!). Suddenly April has an epiphany that will change both of their lives -- move to Paris.
During Frank's days in the Army, he proclaimed Paris held the fondest memories. Unlike April's aspirations to act (an unrealized dream and source of frustration), Frank has no passion. April thinks it would be good for Frank to "have time". She'll work and he'll be the stay-at-home father, in search of his inner passion. Of course, Frank objects to it as a fantasy, but soon he's convinced - as are we. While everyone else views the play as silly (after all, it was the 50's) we see a truly bold family, making a courageous decision. Unfortunately (or fortunately) when it rains, it pours.
A newborn, happy Frank decides to sabotage his work, but instead he wows them. Now, with the plans already set in motion, Frank is offered a promotion, money and stature. It could also be that he's unknowingly found his place in life. When Frank begins to question what path he should take, April spins out of control and soon we are unsure of what’s right, wrong, real or imaginary.
Of course, director Sam Mendes is the auteur that takes Richard Yates' novel (with a screenplay by Justin Haythe) to the screen. Without Mendes, this film would have definitely crashed and burned. His photography is beautiful and he paints a dull, yet colorful picture. His camerawork is, ultimately, what makes the film work. In any one else's hands this would have been just another, dull anti-suburbia film. But Mendes manages to get to the root of what's there and brings a stellar performance from the usually rigid Dicaprio. Winslet, his wife, isn't bad either.
But I can't end this review without acknowledging Michael Shannon who gives, hands down, the best performance of the film and like Mendes, is another main reason the film works. Shannon plays John Givings, the son of neighbor, and realtor, Helen Givings (Kathy Bates). He’s being institutionalized for mental instability and Helen wants to take him out for the day to meet the Wheelers who are, as we know, the ideal couple. They agree to have him over and while his eccentricities are apparent, the two get along very well with John.
Unlike everyone else, he seems to understand their want to go to Paris and respects them for leaving the empty life of the suburbs. But the uncanny insight he has into the lives of April and Frank will soon turn upon their next meeting. His character is a great foil for the rest of the cast (who are all great) and is a breath of fresh air from the normally restrained 50's mindset.
Shannon, though, plays the part to perfection. The once, genius mathematician, John is now teetering between instability and perfect clarity. It seems this is how most of the film is, as well. It has moments of pure sincerity and honesty, yet never quite finds its right footing. Still, it's a stellar looking film and the performances alone are worth a viewing.
by Martin Malloy on Jan 09, 2009
images courtesy of Paramount Vantage
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler and Kate Winslet as April Wheeler
Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Shannon as John Givings, Richard Easton as Howard Givings, Kathy Bates as Helen Givings and Kate Winslet